Top Secret While no one was looking, Pierre Fulke became the No. 1 European at Augusta

April 08, 2001

Scott McCarron, the winner of last week's BellSouth Classic, was
game for a pop quiz. Who's Number 1 on the European tour money
list? he was asked. "No idea," he said after a long pause. Then
who's Number 1 on the European Ryder Cup points list? "No idea,"
he repeated. O.K., what if the answer to both questions is Pierre
Fulke? "Pierre Fulke?" said McCarron, starting to laugh. "Who's
he?"

Fulke, a 30-year-old bachelor from Eksjo, Sweden, who made his
U.S. debut last week at the TPC at Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.,
brings to golf what the stealth bomber brings to enemy radar.
He's the best player no one has ever heard of. Call him Pierre
Fulke, international man of mystery.

Unlucky Pierre got more attention for losing the final of
January's World Match Play to Steve Stricker than he did for
winning three times in Europe in the last 18 months. The Match
Play's second prize of $500,000, roughly the equivalent of three
first-place checks in Europe, locked up a spot for Fulke on the
European Ryder Cup team. That should've made him a BMOC--Big Man
on the Continent. Instead, some Europeans say a more accurate
description of Fulke can be made by transposing the u and the l
in his last name.

Prepping for this year's Masters, his first major other than the
British Open, Fulke was one of many players blown away at
Sugarloaf, struggling in with a 78-77 during Sunday's windy
36-hole windup and finishing 46th. This week should be a better
barometer of Fulke's abilities. Last year he won a British Open
qualifier and then tied for seventh at St. Andrews, 11 shots
behind Tiger Woods. That was pretty good for a carpenter, which
is what Fulke was part-time after he quit school at 18 to turn
pro. For three years he played the Swedish tour in the summer and
did carpentry work in the winter to support himself. "Going pro
was a risky decision," says Fulke, "but I didn't know any better.
I like working with my hands and creating things. I redid an old
wooden house almost by myself."

Fulke's still working with his hands but on a larger scale. He's
designing the course at the Omberg Golf Club, at the foot of
Mount Omberg, about 150 miles south of Stockholm. "No island
greens," he says, grinning. "It's going to be very
natural-looking. There won't be much earthmoving because it's a
small-budget project."

If Fulke is young as course architects go, he's a late bloomer in
this era of whiz-kid golfers. Growing up in Eksjo, a town of
10,000 about 350 miles south of Stockholm, he was introduced to
the game when he was 10 and five years later made Sweden's
national junior team. After turning pro in 1989, it took him four
years to qualify for the European tour and another 10 to get his
first win. His game is best suited for tough courses. He's not
long off the tee (119th in driving distance last year in Europe)
but very straight (fifth in fairways hit). He's an accurate iron
player and an excellent chipper and putter. In addition, says
Harrison Frazar, who was paired with Fulke for the first two
rounds of the BellSouth, "He speaks perfect English. I almost
thought he was an American."

During the second round, Fulke drew the biggest roar from the
crowd at the par-5 18th at Sugarloaf when he holed a pitching
wedge from the fairway for an eagle. "He's a machine, like Annika
Sorenstam," says countryman Jesper Parnevik. "Every shot is a
little draw right down the middle. He has a Colin Montgomerie
kind of game in that he's a steady driver, a steady player. He's
a grinder and tough to beat."

That consistency enabled Fulke to hold off Darren Clarke in last
year's Volvo Masters, the season-ending event on the Euro tour.
"From the 13th hole on, it was basically match play between
Darren and me," says Fulke, who came into the tournament on a
roll, having closed with a 62 the week before at the Italian
Open. Clarke was a stroke ahead at the par-5 16th, which is
fronted by water, when he drove into the rough and had to lay up.
Fulke hit a clutch five-wood to 20 feet--a shot that was chosen as
the European tour's best of the year--and holed the eagle putt.
Clarke made birdie, so they went to 17 tied. "It's a tight
fairway, water all the way down the right side, crap off to the
left, and the wind was coming out of the left pretty hard," says
Fulke. "I hit a good one straight up the middle. That was a bit
too much for him, I guess. He pulled it, and that's how I got the
lead. In retrospect one of us was probably going to crack on that
tee. To me, that was the real shot of the year."

Even though Fulke led that tournament most of the way, his win
was overshadowed by Lee Westwood's ending Montgomerie's
seven-year run as the tour's leading money winner. Still, the
victory vaulted Fulke into the top 50 in the World Ranking for
the first time, secured his invitation to the Masters and, in
essence, marked his arrival on the world golf scene. His play
this year has moved him to 28th in the world.

Fulke improved his scoring average by a massive, by pro
standards, 1.31 strokes a round last year, from 71.82 to 70.51.
He says he became more proficient at reading greens and
therefore holed more putts. He also picked up 10 yards by using
a Callaway driver banned in the U.S. He gives much of the
credit, though, to his chiropractor.

A year ago Fulke's career was in jeopardy. Three weeks after his
first tour victory, at the '99 Trophee Lancome, his right wrist
began to ache, and he needed to take painkillers to get through
the remainder of the season. He had the wrist thoroughly examined
during the off-season, but doctors could not find the cause of
the pain. Fulke tried to resume playing the following March, but
he couldn't get through a single round before the wrist began
acting up. Desperate, he called Mikael Jansch, a Stockholm
chiropractor he had met at the '99 British Open.

Jansch believed the pain stemmed from an alignment problem in
Fulke's neck and shoulders. After four treatments the pain was
gone. Fulke returned to the tour in June after a nine-month
layoff. He made the cut at the Welsh Open, then played
impressively at St. Andrews. When he won the Scottish PGA at
Gleneagles in August, he was all the way back.

Fulke was slowed by another injury, a pulled hamstring, last
month at Dubai, where he missed the cut after watching playing
partners Thomas Bjorn and Tiger Woods blow their tee shots 50
yards past his for two days. While recuperating in Sweden, he
worked on the Mount Omberg project and one night even went
hunting for wild boar. "You need a full moon," Fulke says.
"Combined with the snow the light seems like daylight. The hunt
is usually great fun, but we caught some bad weather. It was
really cold. I sat there for 2 1/2 hours and saw no animals. I
froze my butt off."

A healthy Fulke considered the BellSouth a small first step
toward his goal of playing full-time in the U.S. With that in
mind he has switched to a Callaway driver that conforms to USGA
rules. "Most of the world's top golfers play on this Tour, and
you want to compete with the best," Fulke says. "Even at this
tournament you can tell the difference in talent compared with
Europe."

The Masters will be a much larger step. "I have the short game to
do well there," Fulke says. "You think you know everything about
Augusta's back nine after watching on TV for 15 years, but I'm
sure I'll feel differently after I get there."

No doubt. He'll be viewed differently, too. Playing in the
Masters puts you on golf's radar screen.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN COLOR PHOTO: E.M. PIO RODA McCarron was one over during Sunday's 36-hole marathon.

"You think you know everything about Augusta's back nine," says
Fulke, "but I'm sure I'll feel differently after I get there."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)